If you think you’re hip, sitting in a coffee shop sipping a grande double skinny latte, Dish has some sad news: you’re actually passé, because, like, coffee is so ’90s, dude.
But fear not: come mid-July, right here in Charlottesville you can begin catching up on a beverage trend that started– where else?– in the Pacific Northwest three or four years ago: tea!
The brainchild of Matteus Frankovich, Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar is gearing up for an opening next month, though no specific date has yet been set. Along with kettle master “El Duce”(that’s Spanish, he says, for “the loved one,” though it brings Mussolini to Dish’s mind), Frankovich has been hard at work transforming the second floor of the Downtown Mini Mall, above the former Bashir’s space, into a tea mecca.
A self-proclaimed “tea missionary,” Frankovich worked at a similar teahouse in Portland, Oregon, and recently made “a pilgrimage” to some tea producing countries, including Japan, China, India, and Morocco, bringing back with him artifacts including rugs, kettles, china, and, of course, tea.
Greeting tea sippers as they arrive at Twisted Branch is a massive pale purple plaster-of-paris tree (with requisite twisted branches galore) crafted by local artist Rose Csorba. Hidden shelves within the tree’s trunk are for displaying Frankovich’s Far East artifacts.
The rest of the main space will be divided up into three areas, each “an ode” to a tea producing area. At the front of the space, looking out on the Downtown Mall, Frankovich and El Duce have crafted a stage on which they’ll place Japanese tatami tables. The tables will be moved for musical or stage events, such as sitar players or puppet shows.
Adjacent to the stage is the store area where they’ll offer tea and related products for sale, as well as a more traditional seating area, with tables and chairs. The tea company (and store) is called Temple of Tea, and has a website HYPERLINK "http://www.templeoftea.com" www.templeoftea.com.
Also of note in the store area are two gold Xs inlaid into the hardwood floors. Frankovich and El Duce researched the building, which they say was built in 1892, and discovered that the Xs mark the geographical center of Charlottesville.
Moving back through the space, a Taiwanese Oolong bar will stretch just opposite the looming tree: Frankovich says the rituals of tea making will be easy for those sitting at the bar to observe.
The back section of the space will have booths on one side and a Moroccan opium-style lounge with low benches and tables, tapestries on the walls, and carpets and pillows scattered throughout.
A sunroom/game room (for Mah Jong and the like) and a patio off the back of the space round out your seating choices, and Frankovich and El Duce says it’s their goal for patrons to have different experience at each visit.
No matter where you sit, however, or what country your tea originates in, Frankovich says it’s important to “savor the aroma and observe the leaf before and after the tea is brewed.”
Tea servers will undergo rigorous tea training prior to opening, because, as Frankovich says, “We don’t tolerate any tea mediocrity.” And indeed, after he and El Duce put Dish through an official brewing ritual– including the prewarming of cups and the warming of water to exactly 180 degrees– we have to agree: this stuff beats Lipton any day. Prior to brewing, our green tea infused with jasmine appears to be many small dark green and white balls. Once brewed, the balls unfurl to reveal the leaves and petals which had been tightly rolled. The brewed tea smells good enough to bathe in.
Frankovich says Twisted Branch will serve 60 distinct leaf types at any given time, and that they will change with the season.
And he limns the effects of becoming a regular tea drinker: your whole body benefits including your armpits, which Frankovich—lifting his arms for effect—says will start to emanate the floral odor of the tea you imbibe. Though we’d like to believe him, Dish’ll stick to Speed Stick for now.
The little soupery that’s become a downtown lunching staple over the past four years will soon have new owners, according to Wendy Verhagen, the founding force behind such favorite liquid lunches as peanut Senegalese tofu and crab and lobster chowder.
“I was ready for a change,” she explains, “I was just kind of worn out.”
The new owners are partners Alison Campbell, one time general manager of Zazu’s, and Sheri Edgecomb, who Volvo owners the town over know from her family’s auto repair shop.
Verhagen couldn’t be happier about the sale. “Now she gets to be the soup lady,” Verhagen says of Campbell, who’ll take over in the kitchen, “and I get to be the crazy lady with all the dogs.”
Edgecomb says regular customers have nothing to fear: “We’re going to keep the recipes from the current menu,” she explains. “We’ll only add new things.”
One noticeable change will be the employees behind the counter: no more friendly Goth girls. All the employees are moving on to their own projects, Edgecomb says. In their place will be former Zazu’s employees, who’ll prepare for their new positions during a brief hiatus from July 6-15 when the soupery will be closed for training, cleaning, repainting, and general freshening up. Hey, as long as they’re friendly, Dish’ll be happy.Read more on: twisted branch tea bazaar